to Mr. Christiancy.
Washington , June 18, 1879.
Sir: Your dispatch (No. 7) of the 29th of April last has been received. It relates to neutral rights and the rights of peaceable and unarmed citizens in bombarded towns. The general views upon these subjects which you express are approved, and you were judiciously cautious before you joined your diplomatic colleagues in signing the protest which was addressed to the commander of the Chilian fleet, to require that paper to be so changed as to make the protest dependent upon the truth of the facts which originally was assumed. The prudence of this step is understood to have since been illustrated by the disclosure that the bombardment of at least one of the points named was by no means unprovoked, but was in retaliation for the firing upon boats of the Chilian squadron which approached the port under a flag of truce for the purpose of announcing the blockade. The firing upon a flag of truce is notoriously one of the gravest breaches of the laws of war which a belligerent can commit, and is held to justify severe measures of retaliation, such as were adopted in the instance adverted to.
Although the policy of this government has heretofore shown a leaning towards neutral rights, this has never been or intended to be such as to extinguish the just rights of belligerents, especially of comparatively weak powers. It is apprehended that the capitalists of great European States, who have heavy investments in the funds and in the trade of the South American countries, are so alarmed about their interests that they may not be indisposed to deny any belligerent rights to those countries in the war now unhappily on foot. Undoubtedly they endeavor to impress their views and their anxieties upon their governments at home. This department is not aware how these may have been received. It is hoped, however, that in deciding upon the subject that no neutral will omit to bear in mind that an acknowledgment of the independence of the belligerents implies a concession to them of all the rights in that character which they may claim under the public law, however the exercise of those rights may infringe upon the interests of neutrals.
The war adverted to is much to be deplored and, for the sake of humanity at least, it is hoped that it may soon be brought to an honorable close. Although our own citizens have a much smaller interest in this than those of European countries, complaints upon the subject, especially from owners of vessels in the carrying trade, have reached this Department. Hostilities in this case, however, are not likely to be soonest ended, or peace to be permanent, if neutrals show such impatience as they would not be likely to acquiesce in if the situation were to be reversed.
In regard to the law applicable to the bombardment of unfortified places permit me to refer you to the opinion of Attorney-General Henry Stanbery, of the 31st of August, 1866, relative to the bombardment of Valparaiso by the Spaniards. A manuscript copy of the paper is herewith transmitted to provide for the contingency of your not having a printed one.
I am, &c.,